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Ask the Conservation Officer (CO)

by Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer

Question: "I heard about a couple of situations where the Fish and Game Department issued citations to folks for having snakes. As a youngster growing up in Idaho, I always had snakes and reptiles as pets. Have the laws changed?

Answer: Yes, like everything else the laws have changed to reflect current conditions.

Idaho's human population is expanding into desert habits throughout southern Idaho. New subdivisions and shopping areas are eliminating or altering many of the areas that used to support thriving populations of native reptiles and amphibians. As an important environmental component in the circle of life, the loss of these species may sometimes be reflected in population explosions of some insects or rodents.

Many farmers rely on reptiles and other predators to help control rodent and insect populations that reduce forage and crop yields. Unfortunately many of the reptile wintering areas called "hibernaculas", or snake dens, where snakes congregate during the fall to survive the winter are being methodically destroyed by short-sighted humans.

Some scientists suggest amphibian populations are like the "canary in the mines" used to monitor poisons in our environment. When the amphibian populations decline, some scientists say we should begin to carefully examine our environment for our own health. When was the last time you saw a leopard frog in a marsh?

Native and exotic reptiles and amphibians are in high demand in the pet trade. Venomous reptiles are also highly sought after in the illegal drug trade and used as "watch dogs" to protect drug caches. Commercial collecting of reptiles is on the increase in Idaho.

Many cities and counties have adopted dangerous animal ordinances requiring permitting and inspection of facilities to protect its citizens from dangerous native and exotic animals.

Last week, at a local residence, a walk-in clothes closet called the "snake room" contained numerous venomous native and non-native snakes confined in Tupperware containers stacked on shelves like books. This illegal reptile dealer conducted most of his "business" buying and selling over the internet. Many snakes and reptiles are sent to customers in packages through the regular mail.

All this commercial and personal demand has left many areas devoid of native reptiles and amphibians. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is not funded to survey and adequately monitor these populations. In most areas of the state the population status of reptile and amphibian species is uncertain.

Several years ago the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted rules limiting personal collecting and possession of native reptiles and amphibians to four of each species. A commercial collecting permit issued by the Department for those wishing to exceed those limits or collect for resale.

A valid Idaho hunting license is required by residents and nonresidents for personal take, capture, or possession of native reptiles or amphibians. For additional rules contact your nearest regional office and pick up a brochure entitled "Idaho's Amphibians and Reptiles: Rules for collection, possession and permitting."

If you have any further questions you may call the Magic Valley Regional Office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at (208)324-4350 or e-mail us at the Fish and Game web site at http://fishandgame.Idaho.gov.